Customer service and community management: can they live without each other?

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Appearing at the top position of an industry ranking may be considered a huge achievement for many firms, but nowadays there are all kinds of “rankings” – and some may not give you a reason to be proud. For instance, there are rankings that show the worst best customer service (CS) of brands in social networks. That’s why planning out a concrete social media strategy including appropriate resources and processes is so necessary when it comes to handling customer service through social tools.

Community management is about promoting interesting content and creating community in a specific group of people, but customer service should not be overlooked. According to a survey conducted by the Institute of Customer Service in America (ICS), the number of complaints from customers has increased over the past five years – and they’re using social channels to do so. Even though clients have less problems when hiring a product or service, they are more prone to complain if the service is not as expected because the channels are so much more open for them to do so. According to this survey, 62% of the complaints were related to people issues (related to the attentiveness of the staff), while 34% are directly related to the quality of products or services. More facts: another survey carried out by Oracle states that users expect an answer in 30 minutes or at the most in 24 hours after the publication of their complaint in a social network. That is the reason why customer service in social media is growing very rapidly and according to the IBM Global CEO Study 2012, this will be the second most popular way for clients to interact with brand in three years.

When it comes to handling customer service through social media, companies should decide if it is better to create a single profile in social networks in which to communicate everything, or split it between two (or more), dedicating one network or account specifically to customer service. Organizations such the Spanish bank Banco de Sabadell has, for instance, two Twitter profiles: @BancoSabadell for CS and @BSpress for media relations.

In any case, it is important to have an action plan ready to deal with requests and issues. Some suggestions to take into account for creating the right plan and allocating the relevant resources are:

  • Choose a community manager that really cares for assisting customers and finding solutions.
  • Think in advance about potentially negative situations (special offers, contests, etc. that may lead to a lot of customer requests).
  • Establish a clear policy and procedures for customer service: flow of care, maximum care, escalation of incidents, language, hours of operation, etc. This usually implies a good coordination between the community manager, the marketing department and the customer service department.
  • Answer in the same channel where you were asked (if it was in a social network, do not ask the customer to call a telephone number, write an e-mail, etc.)
  • If there is a large number of questions, it would be desirable to integrate a customer service system on Facebook or Twitter that allows, for example, group responses to the same question, so the profile is not saturated with the same answers.
  • Distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate requests (trolls) who want to gain notoriety in popular accounts.
  • Identify yourself with your name, initials or photo, people respond in social media to build transparency and trust. Moreover, in some cases you can minimize the annoyance of a user who distinguishes between the process of a company from the person himself, a worker who is answering the request.
  • Balance the speed of response time with the need to provide an adequate response.